Nocturne

You are 24, I am 20. I sit on a chair at the foot of your bed. On the bench between us is a sheet of paper, next to that, a pen. I look at the monitors above your head over and over. Every 15 minutes I write down the numbers, make notes. Your pulse and blood pressure are unsteady. Your temperature is too high and rising. It’s not possible to remain alive for long at this heat. I walk around to your side, ease open each of your eyes, shine my torch in. Then I return to my seat and write ‘fixed and dilated’ on the sheet.

You look fit, apart from not being able to breathe on your own. A machine does this for you, its bellows airing their robotic soundtrack through the room. “Pifftt” every six seconds, pushing air deep into your lungs, your chest rising and falling.

In the bed next to yours is an old woman. She’s expected to survive. At her feet sits another nurse, the same age as me. We help each other. Behind us in the windowed nurses’ station, the senior staff watch on, ready to come if the monitors signal alarm.

Your people don’t know yet. Strangers are trying to find them. A doctor comes over to check the monitors and the machine. He tells me this is what happens sometimes with an overdose. The drug’s ability to alter you continues, taking every perception you ever had with it, rolling you on, faster and faster, until it burns you out.

I go to the linen trolley and flick through the sheets, find the thinnest one, worn white cotton, lightest of touch on your skin. I dip a washcloth in cold water, squeeze it out, hold it to your brow. Rinse it, dab the corners of your closed eyes. Rinse it again, wrap each of your hands in its cool dampness. For your dry mouth, ice chips wrapped in gauze held softly against your lips.

I sit again at your feet and ask you silent questions. What’s happening deep inside you, to your spirit, your soul? When does it leave? Is this just your shell now, or are you still here, body and soul in a soundless struggle?

Finally your heart stops. The doctor disconnects you from the machine. The other nurse and I, we wash you. First your front, then we ease you over to your side. I lean you against me and hold you steady while the other nurse sponges your back. Your skin is still hot. She and I talk quietly, sad for the loss, the waste, the parents, the brother, the sister, the lover, the others. We wrap you in a shroud, secure it with pins. I go to the nurses’ station, ring the orderlies and request a patient transfer to the morgue. Then sit at your feet one last time.